By Karen “Omuyengeli Wetu” Woermann
TODAY I pay tribute and honour to my friend Rosalia Nghidinwa with tears in my eyes. If I have to describe her in a nutshell it would be with these words. SHE WAS A PERSON WHO RADIATED LIGHT, AS WELL AS HAVING GREAT FAITH; SHE WAS ALWAYS POSITIVELY EXUBERANT ABOUT LIFE.
Suddenly and tragically that light has been extinguished.
When I got the call from Marianne Nghidengwa of the Confidente newspaper for an interview for this article, I never realised just how difficult it would be.
How do you take a deep friendship of over 40 years and compress it into a few words. So I phoned Max Hamata, the Editor-in-Chief himself, he advised: “Tell them about Rosalia’s story during the struggle, the story that most people don’t know.”
One day while working as a volunteer in the refugee camp of the International Red Cross in Rundu, this nursing sister walked up to me and asked “Wat maak jy hier (what are you doing here)?
I then realised she was not a refugee, but actually a nursing sister. So I asked her to help me with a little boy that had injured himself while climbing a tree. When I asked her where she was stationed in the camp, so that if I needed her help I could find her in a hurry, she gave me this big laugh, one of her trademarks. That is when I found out that she was not a part of our outfit.
She was working approximately 150km away in a place called Nkurenkuru at the Lutheran Medical Hospital. That is the type of person she was, always willing to help others, no matter what. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine for one minute that she and my two other friends, Michael/Rubens and Lucky, were going to change my life forever.
Needless to say, I fell in love with the people of Namibia so much so that I never left. NAMIBIA IS MY HOME thanks to them. They enriched my life and made me a better person. That is the type of person Rosalia was, she brought the best out of every person she came into contact with. When I moved around with her, now looking back, it made me think so much of our Commander-in-Chief of PLAN and then later on our Founding President and Father of the Namibian Nation, H.E. Sam Nujoma. They both would appeal to all Namibians to work hard, in order to fight poverty and ignorance. I know every student who had the privilege of knowing her, would agree with me. We had many rare opportunities to learn a lot from her.
It was in the time of the struggle, in the mid 1970s that things were heating up. The Portuguese were moving out and as a result we were coming into more and more contact with the PLAN fighters. The high command of Swapo had been moving in cells of fighters into our area, which was known as the north-eastern sections of the three-pronged attack into Namibia. The first permanent PLAN military command headquarters was established round about that time in April 1976. I know this because Rosalia organised my 19th birthday party. It was referred to as Moscow, which I at first thought was in the real Moscow, Russia.
Rosalia corrected me and told me it was in the Huila Province of Angola. She explained it was to confuse the Boers into making that same mistake.
Once our region was sorted out, Rosalia would help wounded soldiers with medical supplies etc.
Our friend Michael/Rubens became responsible for a battalion in our section. It was at this time that everyone preferred not to be called by their real names. My friend Michael/Rubens became known as Danger, our first regional commander, who went by the name ‘Mbulunganga’, a name which to this day I cannot pronounce. Rosalia made things simple. They eventually became known as A, B, C or D – that is how practical she was.
‘A’ was the Chief, who years later I found out was actually Matias Ndakolonghoshi. Guess what, I still could not pronounce his surname. ‘B’ was Baby. C was Chicken and D was my friend Michael, who became “Danger”. I later found out, he had another name, Ruben.
Rosalia would organise transport between Windhoek and Rundu in my car for Danger, while simultaneously delivering medical supplies for both her hospital and the PLAN fighters inside Angola.
I can tell you, that was not a very easy time for us .There were many roadblocks along the way. In those days these young Boers from South Africa would shove a gun in my face. They would ask me: “Wat maak die kaffir in jou kar (what is the kaffir doing in your car)?”
I would reply that he was here to assist me. If that did not satisfy them, I would give them Rosalia’s name and phone number to verify. Very risky.
We knew that at any time we could have been grabbed out of the car and shot. It was only after Rosalia worked out that I should drive with Danger sitting on the back seat of my car, because that was how things were done in South Africa. Life became a bit easier. I had to call Danger my tuin kaffir (garden kaffir) and that stopped them giving us such a hard time. If they asked me what Danger’s name was, I would say Michael. It also made it easier for Danger to get out of the car and do a rekkie, in his case in recognisance of the situation on the ground, while I would talk to the South African soldiers. Yes, he was fearless. My heart would literally stop, but Rosalia said, “Act like it was the most normal thing in the world to do.”
And you know what? She was right.
It was in the late 1978, beginning 1979. I cannot remember exactly. I was introduced to a brilliant person who went by the name of Peter Nanyemba. It was he, Rosalia and Danger that gave me my own PLAN name which was ‘Omuyengeliwangee’. However, only Danger could call me this while the other two referred to me as ‘Omuyengeli Wetu’. Sadly I never got to meet Peter again; he died tragically in a car accident on the 1st of April 1983. I always heard this utter nonsense that he died suspiciously. This was now corrected for me by Namibian Ambassador to Finland H.E. Bonny Haufiku. He was coming back from a military parade in the Cuban camp when he had a head-on collision. Rosalia would maintain that if help was nearby at the time, he would have survived, which was not the case, both his legs and one arm were severely damaged, he bled to death.
I am happy to say that Peter got a Medical camp in Angola named after him. It was run by comrades Nickey Iyambo and Kalumbi Shangula, which played a major role in treating the wounded and sick PLAN combatants and other traumatised comrades.
If I remember correctly, it was at this camp that Rosalia transported medical supplies, which helped towards the cause. How she got the supplies to the fighters I never knew, my job was just to get it to her at Rundu. Sometimes there was no money, so Rosalia and I would buy medicine with the cash from our own pockets.
Rosalia was a true inspiration and no words of mine could ever capture the courage and pride she held for her people. She would travel to the places that many deemed too rural to reach and help. She had a way of reaching out and connecting with people. Building schools, hospitals and offering aid in many forms. She was always the one person that would take the most difficult path that no one else dared, because she believed in supporting and recognising every single man, woman and child. She would come to me for assistance in this, and together, side by side, we could make a difference and impact lives. Our friendship was one built in hard times, yet from it flourished hope and Inspiration.
One of the last times I got to spend an extended time period with her was in Nkurenkuru, after Max Hamata’s wedding. We had the opportunity to share a meal around the fire along the river. Our two families had come together and it was together that we reminisced about the old days. But while our children and grandchildren sat fascinated with our stories, Rosalia and I sat together and smiled upon the next generations. It was for them, not just ours, but for all next generations, that we endured and we fought. Rosalia and I shared a moment of heart to heart. Together we had in our small way influenced and impacted the future of the next generation with our belief that every person deserved to have a voice and be heard.
It’s been only a few days since her passing and I think to myself, it was along the river where we planned to remain joined in retirement with two neighbouring houses. I lost one of my dearest of friends. I am eternally grateful to have spent some time with her in the hospital. She served as a mother, ever patient and ever teaching. One of her finest moments was when she was publically thanked and recognised by the president, for her service to this country. Although her light may be gone, I can rest with the faith that she is now with God and that she may look upon her contribution to this country with that radiant smile she always carried. She was my hero and I had the privilege to call her my friend.
Karen Woermann on a boat trip with her late friend Rosalia Nghidinwa and their children
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015